A Gift From Santa

After the celebration of Christmas settled down, the visions of, not sugar plums, but bobcats were dancing in my head. The snow had been falling all throughout the day, suddenly stopping right at dark, just when bobcats do their hunting. Instead of playing with the latest technology and electronic gizmo, my heart longed for something else, something as old as the dawn of time…the hunt.

The sound of the hounds bark was a delight, just what I wanted Santa to bring for me and Kruger. Dane, Rooster and Fletcher, some of the best bobcat hunting dogs around are just the company that I want my hound to keep, they are the dogs that I want Kruger and myself both to learn from. Watching the dogs, how their tail twirls on track, the change in their bark when they strike scent, the way they yearn to run the mountain. I learn more from these dogs than I ever thought possible; determination, the will to continue beyond tired, hungry or cold, the will to live in the moment as is if it might be your last, giving 100% of your heart to the pursuit.

During the first year of Kruger’s puppyhood, in the excitement of his arrival, I may have spoiled him a bit. Okay, he is a very spoiled dog. Now that he is over a year old, it is time for him to learn for himself the positive work ethic that I see in Dane, Rooster and Fletcher. It is important to me that my hound has a well-rounded disposition and character. That takes time, that takes the mountain, that takes some hard hunts…here we go.

No sleep, no worries, just hunt

My head bounced around like a sleeping kid on a car ride, only I am 34 years old. My eyes were heavy and I was passing in and out of sleep, trying to stay awake and pay attention to the snow covered road and the tracks that crossed it. I tortured my hunting partner Ty by singing, it was the only thing that seemed to break the desire to sleep.

Rabbit, squirrel, deer, repeat. Is it a coyote or is it a bobcat? The two can be easily confused in certain snow conditions. Nice round track, no toenails, definitely a bobcat. We had found what we were looking for. Granted the track was aged and would be difficult to follow, it was worth a try. No guts, no glory.

The cold mountain air bit through my lungs as we climbed up, high towards the sound of the hounds. Rooster and Fletcher had went to the right, Dane to the left. Which dog(s) do we follow? Which is on the correct track? The mountain is black making seeing the track very difficult. Dane won out as he was heading towards the rock cliffs, a place where bobcats love to go.

The rocks were slick, covered in a dusting of snow, one slip would be a disaster. Dane was not barking treed, but was frantically running circles around the rocks. We followed in his and the bobcats foot-steps, catching up shortly after 2:00am. The bobcat was perched high on a rock face, watching Dane run circles trying to figure out where he had gone.

We were fortunate that the bobcat had not taken cover. Dane had done his job and brought us to our quarry. The bobcat had eluded my hunting partner for some years, a known runner, we had been blessed with success.

Fletcher and Rooster were still on the hunt and could not be caught. The hunt was over and the dogs didn’t know it. Dane had done the job. Two hours passed, it was after 4:00am before we were able to catch the strong hunting hounds.

With the pickup at an idol keeping us warm, the front seat was going to be my bed for the short night. The thrill of the hunt, our determination, our success, it was all worth it. A Merry Christmas to us. Blessed be the world.

 

Years In The Making

The truck door shut hard with the ice having crusted over the hinges. Ten O’clock at night heading into the frozen mountains of Central Oregon. The skiff of snow was minimal but we were hoping that it would be just enough to locate the fresh tracks of a bobcat. It was going to be an all-nighter but it was my only opportunity to take advantage of the snow before heading to Las Vegas for RMEF’s Hunter Christmas and the National Finals Rodeo for ten days. I needed to be on the mountain one more time before disappearing into the concrete jungle of the city.

The hounds were eager as usual, Kruger jumping in the box, ready for the ride. Mile after long mile it seemed that all we encountered were coyote tracks which can be very easy to confuse with a bobcat. Drive, stop, look at tracks, drive on…our search went on for hours until my eyes could no longer stay open.

This was my first time sleeping in the front seat of a pickup truck, too stubborn to call it quits and go home. My tiny dog Zoie was hogging the seat but somehow, I managed a couple of hours of sleep, just enough to refresh my vigor for the pursuit of finding a track.

Everything looks different in the dark and that is double true at night. The warm welcoming mountains become cold and dark. Roads that you gladly travel during warmer months become treterous with the snow threatening to hold you tight to the ground. Tires spinning, I squeeze the oh S#*T handle more than I care to admit.

The morning light was bitter sweet, my time was running short, but just when I thought we wouldn’t find a track, there it was and it was a big track that was smoking red hot. The hounds know when they are about to go to work, stirring anxiously in the box, whining with anticipation. Rooster, Dane and Fletcher were called forward by name, collared and turned out along with my pup Kruger.

Tracking bobcat is nothing like I have seen before. In order for the hounds to smell the track, they literally have to place their nose into the track getting little dimples of snow on the tip of their nose. Many hounds will easily track a bear or lion but due to the difficulty and minimal scent, the bobcat is an extremely difficult animal for the dogs to track. The pace for the bobcat race is much slower than that of a bear or lion race but the dogs still travel much more swiftly than I can walk, especially in the adverse, steep mountain conditions.

Hunting the most difficult cat to track in North America and this being his first ever hunt, I knew that Kruger would struggle, my hope for him was that he show excitement and the desire to “seek” the track ahead of him. That desire is one that you cannot train. A dog will either want to track and hunt or simply not. Giving his commands, Kruger eagerly began searching for the track, over and over, I place him on the track, “Here it is…Here it is…” “Seek”…”Hunt it Up…” 

He was unsure of the process and soon, the hounds were far ahead of us. Some hounds, honor other dogs meaning, if they bark, they will follow the bark to reach the quarry faster. This can be a good or bad thing, good if the hounds are on the right track, bad if they are not. Kruger does not honor other dogs, he honors me, which can be a good or a bad thing, it all depends on the situation.

The GPS monitor beeped that the hounds were treed so we quickly followed the sound of the baying. The bobcat was so high in the giant tree that he was not easily seen. Kruger excitedly trotted around the tree base, Dane and Rooster had actually climbed into the massive tree trying for an opportunity at the cat. The frenzy of excitement had both me and the dogs filled with anticipation and excitement.

Kruger does not bark when treed, but the thundering sound of the other hounds echoed off the nearby cliff walls; it was a sound that I had waited my entire life to hear. This was the moment that I had planned for and dreamed about since long before Kruger’s birth or arrival into the USA from Africa.

My African Lion Hound, was here, on American soil doing the exact job that he had been bred to do. Hunt cats. All be it, he has everything to learn about hunting bobcat, this was our first glimpse at what hunts might be in store for our future.

Making several loops around the tree base, there was only but a small window of opportunity for a shot.  The sound of success rang out and Kruger was looking up towards the cat, anxiously awaiting his decent from the tree.  The all night pursuit had paid off, I was going to make the trip to Las Vegas tired but it was all worth it.

 

 

 

Hunting the Hunters- Gear


With the first snow coming down across the country, predator season is finally in full swing and now is the time to gear up for some snowy adventures hunting the hunters. Young coyotes are still roaming around and pursuit season for bobcats and or lions is open in many states with the full season opening for bobcat hunting here in Oregon in less than two weeks. Now is the time to evaluate gear and get outside and get to hunting.

Oooh baby its cold outside…

Clothing

When temperatures dip to sub-zero, dressing in layers is critical, especially when doing any hiking in rough terrain between call sets. Start with a merino type base layer and build out from there, if it is really cold, I will stack on several base layers under a mid-layer pant.

I like my mid-layer top to be fleece as it is warm and dries out fast if I happen to fall in a snow bank and get it wet. ;-) My favorite jacket for a mid-layer warmth builder in cold weather is the Cabela’s Primaloft Trail insulator jacket. Primaloft is warm, even if it gets damp and dries out fast plus it is light weight and compresses down. Wearing a vest is my favorite way to add warmth over my fleece top or insulator jacket without the bulk.

Always wear an outer layer that is waterproof even if conditions seem dry as weather conditions change quickly in winter months and most waterproof layers double as a great wind barrier. Ladies be sure to check out OutfitHer from Cabela’s.

Snow gators will help keep the snow from tumbling into even the tallest of boots and help keep your feet dry should you encounter any creek or water crossings along the way.

Bring along AT LEAST two pairs of waterproof warm gloves. Gloves get wet in snowy conditions easily and you will be thankful that you have an extra dry pair or two as the day progresses.

One beanie on your head and an additional one in your pack is ideal which is light weight, low bulk, warmth insurance. I keep my extra gloves and an extra beanie in a gallon zip lock bag to prevent them from getting wet in the field.

The Shemagh has been used by our military for years and recently, I have incorporated it into my hunts. Kryptek makes a shemagh that will not only protect your face and neck from the cold, sun and elements but you can use it for many purposes like covering your rifle scope from the elements, shade the sun from your eyes while glassing, I have even covered my head with the shemagh while shooting to keep sand out of my eyes.

Boots

The Pinnacle BOA boot by Cabela’s is my go to boot in winter conditions. The boot is waterproof breathable GORE-TEX and tall enough to defer snow that is knee deep, insulated and the BOA system keeps my boot tight and on my feet without laces.

The NEW Instinct boot is GORE-TEX waterproof and has 400 GM Thinsulate Insulation, great ankle support and is STIFF for walking in steep, rough terrain. 

Cold feet? Thermarest heated insoles, quickly and easily slip into your boots providing you with warm toasty heat during your calling sets. You can even turn off the heat when walking to save battery life and ensure that your feet don’t overheat.

Slipping & Sliding….

For pursuit hunting with hounds, a quality pair of crampons are a must in mountain terrain. Covering mountain miles without a good pair will wear you out! The added traction will make your hike slide free and much easier.

And for all the slipping and sliding that you might do, a trekking pole is a great add when navigating rough, steep, snowy terrain. If your buddies make fun of you for your stick, when they struggle up the mountain, poke it at them and just laugh. You will be thankful you have it and they will wish they had one too!

Calls

Mouth calls from Rocky Mountain Hunting Calls are my favorite hand held. They have a selection of jack rabbit, cotton tail, rodent and fawn distress sounds. Coyote and wolf howling systems. You can even use a cow call diaphragm to make calf elk distress sounds.

If you are no expert with mouth calls, check out Cabela’s Outfitter Series predator call by FoxPro. It comes loaded with 35 sounds and you can customize by adding more sounds that you can download online.  I like to use electronic calls because it moves the sound away from you as the shooter allowing for the predator to come within range without being seen as easily. BONUS: The Outfitter Series electronic call comes loaded with cougar and other fur animal sounds like raccoon sounds that are not easy to or even possible to replicate with a mouth call.

Decoys

Decoys work because they give the predator a focal point to watch when coming in. Montana Decoy makes coyote, rabbit and fawn decoys that are realistic and give your call set life. Some states even allow moving decoys. Check your local regulations to see what rules apply to your state.

Storage

Cabela’s Speedy Yote Kickstand vest has pockets to hold all of your calls and give you a comfortable seat while in the field that insulates you against the cold ground.

A good quality backpack that you like will surely help tote along all of your necessary gear.

Kitchen

Kitchen…yes, I dare say kitchen while hunting. I am a girl for heaven sake so it is natural to bring along everything, except the kitchen sink (A gallon of water will suffice). There is nothing more delightful than a hot cup of coffee or lunch in sub-zero temperatures. MSR reactor stoves or Jet Boil stoves are light weight and boil water quickly so that you can dine on a hot lunch from Mountain House or sip fresh hot coffee, all day long. You can opt to put the kitchen in your pack or leave it at the truck. Either way, EVERYONE will enjoy. I promise.

Optics, Rifles and Such…

Good optics are a must have and will help you spot predators from distance allowing you the opportunity to place a well-planned out set without spooking them or alerting them to your presence. A range finder is a must have so that you can easily and quickly dial your rifle turret for point of aim, point of impact shots.

A tripod shooting rest or a hog saddle mounted on your tripod is a must when stand hunting for predators. It will allow you to stay comfortable and supported behind the gun throughout your entire set.

Misc.

Don’t forget the small stuff that matters. Bring at least one extra set of batteries for your flashlight and predator call. The cold air drains batteries quickly. A few hand or body warmers remove the chill of the winter weather without adding bulk.

Your GPS with OnXmaps will provide valuable land owner information allowing you to access areas that you might not have known were public land.

Good hunting to you all…